Hamburger: The Motion Picture

Director: Mike Marvin  
Leigh McCloskey, Dick Butkus, Randi Brooks

Though I love movies, and love them enough that I have my own web site where I post reviews of movies on a regular basis, that doesn't mean that my whole life centers on movies. I have other interests in my life as well. Some of the other things I like to do include reading (and not just books and magazines that have to do with movies), or going out for a walk from my apartment building to various colorful and interesting places around my city. Another interest I have is with food. Let's face it - food more often than not tastes great, so who doesn't like to chow down on something tasty? (Well, in recent years there was Roger Ebert, but you know what I mean.) While most of us enjoy the taste of food, there are times when I enjoy making something to eat. I like to buy a steak and cook it between rare and well done, and serve it with mixed vegetables on the side. Also, sometimes I'll prepare a box of macaroni and cheese. (Though I enjoy macaroni and cheese, I am puzzled why so many of my countrymen here in Canada are nuts over it. Are there more university students in my country than I thought?) But I have to admit something - I am kind of a lazy cook. I usually just prepare meals that are easy to make. Because I am somewhat lazy when it comes to food, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of fast food. Living downtown in a good-sized city, there are a number of fast food restaurants close by, and I frequent these establishments several times a week. Maybe it is unhealthy, but I love the taste and convenience of fast food very much, and I would be in somewhat of a pickle if these places did not exist.

Yes, fast food is something that I cherish very much. But that's not to say that I always take it completely seriously. When you think about it, there is much about the fast food industry that begs to be poked fun at. Sometimes these fast food establishments agree with this feeling. Living near the American and Canadian border, I often get to see on TV commercials from the fast food chain Jack In The Box, and almost all of their commercials are comical in nature. I find these commercials funny enough that the only thing stopping me from going to a Jack In The Box restaurant is that there are no Jack In The Box restaurants here in Canada. Mostly, however, the fast food commercials that I see are pretty serious in nature - they are not interested in being cute, because they are serious about selling their product. But sometimes I find them unintentionally amusing. Years ago I saw a McDonald's commercial about some small town residents who got a McDonald's, and while it was being built the residents couldn't stop gushing about their luck and were dreaming of feeding their families there on a regular basis. Years earlier, Burger King, no doubt from seeing the success of Ronald McDonald from their main competitor, introduced their own goofy characters aimed at the children's market, like The Duke of Doubt and The Wizard of Fries. And then there has been Hamburger University. Hamburger University, run by McDonald's, is an eighty acre training center in Illinois devoted to the training of people in the skills of restaurant management.

You might giggle at the thought that there would be a school devoted to fast food management. But in my research, I discovered that the school has about five thousand student studying there at any moment, and that over eighty thousand people have graduated from there over the years. The school has also been so successful that McDonald's has opened another Hamburger: The Motion PictureHamburger University, this new one being in China. Still, despite all this success, the idea of a fast food university seems to have a lot of potential for comedy gold. In fact, it's the subject of the comedy Hamburger: The Motion Picture. While I love fast food, at the same time I had the appetite to see a savage attack on the aspects that I find excessive. The events of the movie center on a young man by the name of Russell Procope (McCloskey, Hearts And Armour). We learn that he has been kicked out of several colleges because he has been a little too friendly with the female students and faculty at these places. From that news, you might understandably think that Russell does not take post-secondary education seriously, but a big part of him actually does. You see, Russell's family is holding a very sizable trust fund for Russell, and the condition that Russell has to fulfil in order to get the money is to get a college degree - any college degree. Flat broke from being in all those past colleges, Russell soon finds that there is only one college available and affordable for him to try and get a degree. That college is Buster Burger University, a post-secondary institution that trains people for free to run Buster Burger fast food restaurants. So it's off to B.B.U., where Russell soon meets a whole bunch of eccentric characters. There's a fat student, a nun, a nerd, a token African-American, a foreign student, a sex-obsessed student with his eye on the young new wife of the president of Buster Burger etc. etc. But then there is also a beautiful young lady named Mia (Debra Blee, Savage Streets) who happens to be the daughter of the owner of the Buster Burger empire. Of course, Russell falls for this young lady, but he soon learns that Drootin (Butkus, former football player for the Chicago Bears), the University's drill sergeant, has his eye on the same lady. The question soon comes up if Russell can earn his degree with female temptation as well as a determined and powerful romantic rival getting in the way.

Although Hamburger: The Motion Picture mixes in a heap of burgers and fries into its mix, one can still taste the inspiration for it, and that would be Animal House - both movies took place on a post-secondary campus with various oddball characters abound. Imitation isn't necessarily a bad thing, at least as long as the imitation gives a fresh and positive spin to what's familiar. And as I indicated earlier, bringing in the fast food industry is a novel approach. Unfortunately, the makers of Hamburger apparently didn't study Animal House close enough in a number of key areas. Let me start off by taking a look at Russell, the central character of the movie. He was not made to be a character that the audience will be rooting for. He seems really dumb in several aspects. I don't know about you, but if I had a $250,000 inheritance to collect if I were to get a college degree, screw women, I'd be studying like crazy. For a long time, he treats studies and life in general as a joke, which gets to be frustrating and annoying. He does somewhat smarten up later in the movie, but there are still several problems with his character. For one thing, he looks too old to be a college student (actor Leigh McCloskey was thirty-one years old when he made this movie.) Then there is the whole business with his romance with the daughter of the Buster Burger empire. Like an E. coli burger from Jack In The Box, the whole romance seems undercooked. He doesn't get to show enough of a tender and caring side to his character to Mia, so it doesn't seem right when Mia subsequently shows an attraction to him. And it doesn't get to be more than a simple attraction as a matter of fact. At the end of the movie, there is no sign that the two are really in love or are planning to continue to pursue things in the hope of it building to more. This whole romance is so unfulfilling that one has to wonder why it was put in the movie in the first place.

Another problem with the character of Russell is that while it's promised that he will be Hamburger's most prominent character, he is actually moved to the back burner for much of the movie's second half. This makes it even harder to build sympathy for him, since he's all of a sudden not given much to do to prove himself. As you can see, his character is weak, but the movie could still have worked by compensating in other areas, such as exploring the other characters in the movie. But it's very likely that you will be just as greatly disappointed with the supporting characters as I was. From the description of the characters I listed two paragraphs ago, you may have concluded that these characters are stereotypes. But full stereotypes would have been a lot better than how many of these characters are actually used. The nun is violently shoved aside in one scene, and later gives a high-five to the movie's token African-American. And that's about all that she's used for. The fat student gives himself several electric shocks to lessen his hunger pains. And that's about all that he's used for. The African-American tries escaping from campus several times so he can make a musical gig he has. And that's about all that he's used for. The nerd is used as part of an experiment that gives his body and personality chicken-like traits. And that's about all he's used for. These are not characters - they are just devices to deliver unimaginative gags. The only actor who gets to build some kind of character is Dick Butkus as the harsh and scheming campus drill sergeant Drootin. Although this character's actions, from inflicting great punishment on the people beneath him to sabotaging the class' final test comes across as tired and familiar, it at least gives this person some kind of character. By the way, Butkus, though greatly overacting many times, gives the movie's best performance, which should tell you something about the general quality of acting to be found in the movie.

From my descriptions of the characters in the movie, from Russell to the supporting players, you probably have a good idea of the kind of humor that's to be found in Hamburger. More often than not, the movie goes for the easy and extremely lame route, from characters putting laxatives into milk shakes (resulting in a bathroom blowing up, ha ha) to everyone jumping into a swimming pool just because someone had accidentally fallen in. What about the parts of the movie that poke fun at the fast food business and the idea of a hamburger university? Well, there is a little genuine humor to be found in these parts of the movie. Some of the more successful gags include campus dorm rooms with hamburger beds and other burger furniture, as well as classes that include such subjects such as onionology (which gets all the students crying). You're probably not laughing very hard at the idea of these things, which just goes to show you the quality of what can be considered the more successful gags in the movie. Is there anything successfully executed in the whole production of Hamburger? Well, for a low budget movie, the production values aren't that bad. It's clear in many scenes that time and expense was put into building Buster Burger restaurants, campus decorations, and other props. Also, director Mike Marvin (who later directed the cult movie The Wraith) directs the whole enterprise in a manner that doesn't make the movie feel dated more than twenty-five years later. Except for some incidental music, the movie could have been made yesterday. But I'm sure viewers today will feel the same way critics did about Hamburger way back in 1986, that it's an unappetizing comic meal.

(Posted August 13, 2014)

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See also: Big Man On Campus, Hollywood High, Making The Grade